- Books, Literature, and Writing»
- How to Write
How NOT to take a horse's temperature!
From the Life and Crimes of Fenella Fisher
“Well, if it isn’t Fenella Fisher! Put the kettle on and make us all some coffee. Christ knows, I can do with a cup.” Fenella looked at James Proctor, with his feet on a desk littered with papers, and his long dark hair tied in a ponytail. Her Stepdad’s racehorse trainer; brilliant, charming and dangerous.
“If I were you, James, I’d get my feet off the desk and do something about the dirty coffee cups scattered around,” she said smugly with a cheeky grin on her face. “Dad’s just getting something out of the boot and will be in shortly.”
“Christ,” was all James said as he hurriedly jumped up and started collecting cups and putting them in the tiny sink he had in his office. “Well, do something to help, Female, don’t just stand there grinning at me,” he said desperately, as he tried to carry five mugs at once.
“ Do your own dirty work, but I’ll try to delay him for you,” she said over her shoulder as she left the office.
Fenella had been coming to the Racing Stables ever since her dad had decided to invest in racehorses when she had just started High School. All her friends had finished school and gone off to study or work in an office, but Fenella was determined to work with horses. There was something about the way a horse’s muscles moved when it galloped, when it nuzzled food out of your hand. The way you knew exactly where you stood. They were either your friend or they were doing all they could to try and bite you or kick you to shreds. Since finishing High School, Fenella came into the stables every morning to ride horses with the jockeys and grooms in their early-morning training sessions. “Actually,” said Fenella to herself, “I’m not sure if I come because of the horses or because of the view. Definitely not because of those mongrel jockeys. Jeez, I love that mountain.” Fenella looked up at the imposing, impressive Table Mountain that provided a perfect backdrop to the racing stables in Milnerton, Cape Town.
By the time Fenella and her Dad returned to James’s office, he had tidied it up and was sitting hard-at-work, writing in his weekly planner. He looked up and smiled, all charm and politeness for one of his ‘owners’. “G’day, Brent. Howya doing today?” He stood up and shook Fenella’s Dad’s hand. When James launched into his description of Goody Gumdrops’s workout that morning, Fenella decided that it was time to leave and check on Mike O’Malley’s stables. He’d had to go away up-country for some or other family emergency, and had asked Fenella to be his ‘assistant trainer’ and keep an eye on things for him. Mike wasn’t the tidiest of people, and his office always looked a mess. Fenella hoped she wouldn’t have to venture in there today. She had a horrible feeling that he hadn’t washed the dishes in the small sink or thrown away his leftover food he’d been eating before he got the phone call to leave immediately.
“Morning Miss Fenella,” greeted Samson, Mike’s head groom. “All horses good today. All horses eat well. Boss Mike phoned already and wants you to phone him back.”
Fenella sighed. Mike had this theory that if a horse’s temperature rose a notch or two on the thermometer the day of the race, then it would be invincible and would win easily. Whether it was a scientifically proven fact or not, no-one knew, but it had worked once or twice for Mike and he was convinced of its worth.
Fenella went into Mike’s tiny office that had the ripe odour of dirty dishes and decomposing food, opened the drawer of his small wooden desk and took out the rectal thermometer. This was one part of working with horses that she didn’t find endearing at all. Fenella shook the thermometer to get the mercury to go down, as she walked to the stable of Mike’s star performer, His Nibs. Golden chestnut, with a white blaze and four white socks, His Nibs was easily the most handsome-looking horse in the stables. However, he was known to be cantankerous and lashed out at anyone who walked behind him. As there was no way that Fenella was going to spoil a beautiful day getting kicked by a fractious horse, Fenella signaled to one of the grooms to bring the twitch to put on His Nibs’ upper lip, to distract him from what was going to happen at his rear end. “Steady boy, steady boy,” Fenella crooned as the groom twisted the nylon cord of the twitch tightly around the chestnut’s upper lip. She waited until the groom lifted the horse’s right leg and held it to keep him unbalanced, so that it would be safe for Fenella to approach the stallion’s back legs.
Fenella walked up to His Nibs, and stood at a distance and leaned forward to pat him on his rump, so as to make sure that he wasn’t able to kick out at her. “Good boy, good boy,” she whispered, gently stroking the rump and carefully lifting the tail with one hand to expose the hole. With her other hand, she gave the thermometer one last shake and inserted it into the hole under the tail. “Oh for God’s sake!” she shouted, as the thermometer quickly disappeared all the way up His Nibs’s rectum. Fenella heard the phone ring in Mike’s office.
“Samson!” called Fenella, “Answer the phone, I’m busy now!” Scratching her head, Fenella let go the horse’s tail and wondered what on earth she was going to do. Chances were, that it was Mike on the phone.
“Miss Fenella!” shouted Samson, “It’s Boss Mike!”
“Shit, shit, shit,” mumbled Fenella under her breath, “Talk about bloody timing.”
“Boss Mike wants to know what is the temperature!”
“Tell him I’ll call him back! I’m just taking the temperature!” Fenella lifted the tail again to see if by some chance the thermometer had decided to make an appearance. But, no such luck. A tail, a wrinkled round hole, but no sign of the thermometer. “What to do, what to do…,” she repeated to herself.
Samson called out again, “Boss Mike said that he’ll wait for you on the phone while you take the temperature.”
That was not what Fenella wanted to hear. She quickly hurried over to the office and took the phone from Samson. “Er, hello Mike. Um, don’t have the temperature yet. You interrupted me while I was taking it.” Fenella closed her eyes and waited for the tirade she knew she was going to hear. “Yes Mike, I know that you have to call the owner and tell him whether or not to put money on his horse. You going to wait for me while I quickly take the temperature? Okay, hold on, I’ll be back in a tick.” Fenella carefully put the phone back down and hurried back to the stable, where Samson was standing with a puzzled look on his face.
“I don’t understand, Miss Fenella, I thought you were taking the temperature. Where is the thermometer?” Samson asked with a frown.
“That’s just it, Samson. There is no thermometer. The stupid bloody horse sucked it into his arse and it’s disappeared!”
Samson’s eyes went wide with surprise. “Gone?” he asked incredulously, “Gone? Yoo yoo yoo….aikhona. Oh Miss Fenella, you are in big trouble. The Boss wants this horse to win today. How is he going to run with a thermometer stuck in his bum? Yoo…yoo…yoo.”
“Samson, don’t tell me what I already know. Tell me how we are going to get the thermometer out.” Fenella hoped that she wouldn’t start to cry. “Boss Mike is waiting on the phone. What am I going to tell him?”
Samson lifted the stallion’s tail and stuck a finger into the anus. “It’s gone for good, Miss Fenella. You have a very big problem, and Boss Mike is waiting on the phone?” Suddenly, Samson started to laugh and leaned against the wall to support himself, as tears of merriment rolled down his cheeks. Fenella narrowed her eyes and glared at Samson, wishing that something evil would befall him for laughing at her predicament. Just then, His Nibs lifted his tail and gave a loud, wet-sounding fart, and the thermometer shot from his bottom at break-neck speed, narrowly missing the laughing Samson, and crashed violently into the wall.
Samson stopped in mid-laugh, “What the hell?” His eyes went big in shock as he realized that he had narrowly missed being impaled by a flying missile.
Now, it was Fenella’s turn to laugh out loud. “That’ll teach you for laughing at me. But what on earth am I going to tell Mike?” With a shock, she realized that he was still waiting on the phone to get the temperature reading. She quickly ran from the stable back to the office. “Yes Mike, I’m back. Temperature today is…” Fenella scratched her head to think of the normal horse temperature, “His temperature today is 38 degrees. Yes, I’m sure. Ah, good news is it? I’m pleased. Okay, chat to you tomorrow, I’ve got to go.” Fenella thankfully replaced the receiver and wondered how His Nibs would perform on the racetrack that afternoon. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Samson and the other groom picking up the small shards of glass from the broken thermometer. “Christ, all we need now is for His Nibs to get mercury poisoning from eating the soiled hay!”
Fenella finished checking on Mike O’Malley’s other horses and headed back to James Proctor’s office at his stables. Her dad had obviously left, because James was leaning in his chair with his feet on his desk, surrounded by five jockeys who often rode for his stable. “Ah, Fenella,” James put his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair, “Taken any temperatures lately?” His left eyebrow lifted in a quizzical expression.
“But, how did you….?” Fenella stammered. She never had a chance to complete her question. All six men in the room cracked up laughing. Fenella felt her face grow hot as her cheeks glowed bright red with embarrassment. She couldn’t believe that word of her encounter with the rectal thermometer had already spread so quickly! She should have known that such a tasty tidbit of gossip wouldn’t have stayed sacred and secret for long.
“Samson,” she cursed under her breath.
Deciding to change the subject and stop the laughter at her expense, Fenella addressed the group of small men, who were all wiping the tears from their eyes. “So,” she said brightly with a forced smile on her face, “Who is going to win at Kenilworth today?”
“Ah Fenella,” said the smallest jockey with a lewd expression on his pint-sized face, “Come and sit on our laps and we’re sure to find you some…” and he licked his lips provocatively, “….some hot tips.” That was enough to send everybody into fits of laughter again.
“Jockeys,” thought Fenella, “Oversexed and underfed.” Fenella had this theory, that jockeys were all hornier than most because of the very nature of their jobs. Spending all day, every day, riding horses in that rocking–type motion; if you crouch low enough, the tiny racing saddle probably would just rub against certain sensitive areas. Surely, it stands to reason they might permanently have erections and that’s why they always feel ready for sex. The constant sexual innuendos and double talk, (it was impossible to ever have a serious conversation with a jockey, particularly the ones who hung around James Proctor), showed that sex was always foremost on their minds. The occasional quick coupling in an empty stable, had proved that it didn’t take much to get them ready for action either. It also proved that height had nothing to do with size, she thought dreamily to herself.
Excerpt from Stop the World, I need to pee! by Cindy Vine